|Type Battle rifle|
In service 1954–present
|Place of origin Belgium|
Wars See Conflicts
|Used by 90+ countries (See Users)|
Designer Dieudonné Saive Ernest Vervier
The FAL, or Fusil Automatique Léger ("Light Automatic Rifle"), is a semi-automatic/selective fire battle rifle produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN). During the Cold War it was adopted by many North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, with the notable exception of the United States. It is one of the most widely used rifles in history, having been used by more than 90 countries.
- Design details
- Sturmgewehr 58
- LAR 5041 5042
- FAL 5061
- FAL 5062
- FAL 5063
- FAL 5064
- FAL OSW DSA 58 OSW Operational Special Weapon
- Other FN Variants
- OlinWinchester FAL
- Armtech L1A1 SAS
- Production and use
- South Africa
- United States
- Non state users
The FAL was predominantly chambered for the 7.62×51mm NATO round (although originally designed for the .280 British intermediate cartridge) and because of its prevalence and widespread use among the armed forces of many NATO countries during the Cold War it was nicknamed "The right arm of the Free World". A British Commonwealth derivative of the FN FAL has been produced under licence as the L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle.
In 1946, the first FN FAL prototype was completed. It was designed to fire the intermediate 7.92×33mm Kurz cartridge developed and used by the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II (see StG44 assault rifle). After testing this prototype in 1948, the British Army urged FN to build additional prototypes, including one in bullpup configuration, chambered for their new .280 British caliber intermediate cartridge. After evaluating the single bullpup prototype, FN decided to return instead to their original, conventional design for future production.
In 1950, the United Kingdom presented the redesigned FN rifle and the British EM-2, both in .280 British calibre, to the United States for comparison testing against the favoured United States Army design of the time—Earle Harvey's T25. It was hoped that a common cartridge and rifle could be standardized for issue to the armies of all NATO member countries. After this testing was completed, U.S. Army officials suggested that FN should redesign their rifle to fire the U.S. prototype ".30 Light Rifle" cartridge. FN decided to hedge their bets with the U.S., and in 1951 even made a deal that the U.S. could produce FALs royalty-free, given that the UK appeared to be favouring their own EM-2.
This decision appeared to be correct when the British Army decided to adopt the EM-2 and .280 British cartridge in the very same month. This decision was later rescinded after the Labour Party lost the 1951 General Election and Winston Churchill returned as Prime Minister. It is believed that there was a quid pro quo agreement between Churchill and U.S. President Harry Truman in 1952 that the British accept the .30 Light Rifle cartridge as NATO standard in return for U.S. acceptance of the FN FAL as NATO standard. The .30 Light Rifle cartridge was in fact later standardized as the 7.62 mm NATO; however, the U.S. insisted on continued rifle tests. The FAL chambered for the .30 Light Rifle went up against the redesigned T25 (now redesignated as the T47), and an M1 Garand variant, the T44. Eventually, the T44 won, becoming the M14. However, in the meantime, most other NATO countries were evaluating and selecting the FAL.
FN created what is possibly the classic post-war battle rifle. Formally introduced by its designers Dieudonné Saive and Ernest Vervier in 1951, and produced two years later, it has been described as the "Right Arm of the Free World." The FAL battle rifle has its Warsaw Pact counterpart in the AKM, each being fielded by dozens of countries and produced in many of them. A few, such as Israel and South Africa, manufactured and issued both designs at various times. Unlike the Soviet AKM assault rifle, the FAL utilized a heavier full-power rifle cartridge.
The FAL operates by means of a gas-operated action very similar to that of the Russian SVT-40. The gas system is driven by a short-stroke, spring-loaded piston housed above the barrel, and the locking mechanism is what is known as a tilting breechblock. To lock, it drops down into a solid shoulder of metal in the heavy receiver much like the bolts of the Russian SKS carbine and French MAS-49 series of semi-automatic rifles. The gas system is fitted with a gas regulator behind the front sight base, allowing adjustment of the gas system in response to environmental conditions. The piston system can be bypassed completely, using the gas plug, to allow for the firing of rifle grenades and manual operation. The FAL's magazine capacity ranges from five to 30 rounds, with most magazines holding 20 rounds. In fixed stock versions of the FAL, the recoil spring is housed in the stock, while in folding-stock versions it is housed in the receiver cover, necessitating a slightly different receiver cover, recoil spring, and bolt carrier, and a modified lower receiver for the stock.
FAL rifles have also been manufactured in both light and heavy-barrel configurations, with the heavy barrel intended for automatic fire as a section or squad light support weapon. Most heavy barrel FALs are equipped with bipods, although some light barrel models were equipped with bipods, such as the Austrian StG58 and the German G1, and a bipod was later made available as an accessory.
Among other 7.62×51mm NATO battle rifles at the time, the FN FAL had relatively light recoil, due to the gas system being able to be tuned via regulator in fore-end of the rifle, which allowed for excess gas which would simply increase recoil to bleed off. In fully automatic mode, however, the shooter receives considerable abuse from recoil, and the weapon climbs off-target quickly, making automatic fire only of marginal effectiveness. Many military forces using the FAL eventually eliminated full-automatic firearms training in the light-barrel FAL.
The Sturmgewehr 58 (StG 58) is a battle rifle. The first 20,000 were manufactured by Fabrique Nationale de Armees de Guerre-Herstal Belgique, but later the StG58 was manufactured under license by Steyr-Daimler-Puch (now Steyr Mannlicher), and was formerly the standard rifle of the Österreichisches Bundesheer (Austrian Federal Army). It is essentially a user customized version of the FAL and is still in use, mainly as a drill weapon in the Austrian forces. It was selected in a 1958 competition, beating the Spanish CETME and American AR-10.
Most StG 58s featured a folding bipod, and differ from the FAL by using a plastic stock rather than wood in order to reduce weight in the later production rifles (although some of the early FN-built production rifles did come with wooden stocks). The rifle can be distinguished from its Belgian and Argentine counterparts by its combination flash suppressor and grenade launcher. The fore grip was a two part steel pressing.
Steyr-built StG 58s had a hammer forged barrel that was considered to be the best barrel fitted to any FAL. Some StG58s had modifications made to the fire mode selector so that the fully automatic option was removed, leaving the selector with only safe and single shot positions. The StG 58 was replaced by the Steyr AUG in 1977, although the StG 58 served with many units as the primary service rifle through the mid-1980s.
LAR 50.41 & 50.42
FAL OSW (DSA-58 OSW - Operational Special Weapon)
Other FN Variants
A semi-automatic, twin barrel variant chambered in the 5.56mm Duplex round during Project SALVO. This weapon was designed by Stefan Kenneth Janson who previously designed the EM-2 rifle.
Armtech L1A1 SAS
Dutch company Armtech built the L1A1 SAS, a carbine variant of the L1A1 with a barrel length of 290 mm.
Production and use
The FAL has been used by over 90 countries, and over two million have been produced. The FAL was originally made by Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Liège, Belgium, but it has also been made under license in a number of countries. A distinct sub-family was the Commonwealth inch-dimensioned versions that were manufactured in the United Kingdom and Australia (as the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle or SLR), and in Canada as the C1. The standard metric-dimensioned FAL was manufactured in South Africa (where it was known as the R1), Brazil, Israel, Austria and Argentina. Mexico assembled FN-made components into complete rifles at its national arsenal in Mexico City. The FAL was also exported to many other countries, such as Venezuela, where a small-arms industry produces some basically unchanged variants, as well as ammunition. By modern standards, one disadvantage of the FAL is the amount of work which goes into machining the complex receiver, bolt and bolt carrier. Some theorized that the movement of the tilting bolt mechanism tends to return differently with each shot, affecting inherent accuracy of the weapon, but this has been proven to be false. The FAL's receiver is machined, while most other modern military rifles use quicker stamping or casting techniques. Modern FALs have many improvements over those produced by FN and others in the mid-20th-century.
The Argentine Armed Forces officially adopted the FN FAL in 1955, but the first FN made examples did not arrive in Argentina until the autumn of 1958. Subsequently, in 1960, licensed production of FALs began and continued until the mid-to-late 1990s, when production ceased. In 2010, a project to modernize the totality of the existing FAL and to produce an unknown number of them was approved. This project was called FAL M5.
Argentine FALs were produced by the government-owned arsenal FM (Fabricaciones Militares) at the Fábrica Militar de Armas Portátiles "Domingo Matheu" (FMAP "DM") in Rosario. The acronym "FAL" was kept, its translation being "Fusil Automático Liviano", (Light Automatic Rifle). Production weapons included "Standard" and "Para" (folding buttstock) versions. Military rifles were produced with the full auto fire option. The rifles were usually known as the FM FAL, for the "Fabricaciones Militares" brand name (FN and FM have a long-standing licensing and manufacturing agreement). A heavy barrel version, known as the FAP (Fusil Automático Pesado, or heavy automatic rifle) was also produced for the armed forces, to be used as a squad automatic weapon. The Argentine 'heavy barrel' FAL, also used by several other nations, was found to frequently experience a failure to feed after firing two rounds from a full magazine when in automatic mode.
A version of the FALMP III chambered in the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge was developed in the early 1980s. It used M16 type magazines but one version called the FALMP III 5.56mm Type 2 used Steyr AUG magazines. The FARA 83 (Fusil Automático República Argentina) was to replace the Argentine military's FAL rifles. The design borrowed features from the FAL such as the gas system and folding stock. It seems to have been also influenced to some degree by other rifles (the Beretta AR70/223, M16, and the Galil). An estimated quantity of between 2,500 and 3,000 examples were produced for field testing, but military spending cuts killed the project in the mid-1980s.
There was also a semi-automatic–only version, the FSL, intended for the civilian market. Legislation changes in 1995 (namely, the enactment of Presidential Decree Nº 64/95) imposed a de facto ban on "semi-automatic assault weapons". Today, it can take up to two years to obtain a permit for the ownership of an FSL. The FSL was offered with full or folding stocks, plastic furniture and orthoptic sights.
Argentine FALs saw action during the Falklands War (Falklands-Malvinas/South Atlantic War), and in different peace-keeping operations such as in Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia. Rosario-made FALs are known to have been exported to Bolivia (in 1971), Colombia, Croatia (during the wars in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s), Honduras, Nigeria (this is unconfirmed, most Nigerian FALs are from FN in Belgium or are British-made L1A1s), Peru, and Uruguay (which reportedly took delivery of some Brazilian IMBEL-made FALs as well). Deactivated ex-Argentinean FALs from the many thousands captured during the Falklands War are used by UK forces as part of the soldier's load on some training courses run over public land in the UK.
The Argentine Marine Corps, a branch of the Argentine Navy, has replaced the FN/FM FAL in front line units, adopting the U.S. M16A2. The Argentine Army has expressed its desire to acquire at least 1,500 new rifles chambered for the 5.56×45mm NATO SS109/U.S. M855 (.223 Remington) cartridge, to be used primarily by its peacekeeping troops on overseas deployments.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) secretly purchased several thousand Argentine FAL rifles in 1981, which were supplied to the Nicaraguan Contras rebel group. These rifles have since appeared throughout Central America in use with other organizations.
These rifles are currently being modernized to a new standard, the FAL M5 (or FAL V), which uses polymer parts to reduce weight, and has Picatinny rails and optic mounts for carrying accessories, that created these variants:
Brazil took delivery of a small quantity of FN-made FAL rifles for evaluation as early as 1954. Troop field testing was performed with FN made FALs between 1958 and 1962. Then, in 1964, Brazil officially adopted the rifle, designating the rifle M964 for 1964. Licensed production started shortly thereafter at the Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil (IMBEL), in Itajubá in the state of Minas Gerais. The folding stock version was designated M964A1. By the late 1980s/early 1990s, IMBEL had manufactured some 200,000 M964 rifles. Later Brazilian made FALs have Type 3, hammer forged receivers. Early FN made FALs for Brazil are typical FN 1964 models with Type 1 or Type 2 receivers, plastic stock, handguard, and pistol grip, 22 mm cylindrical flash hider for grenade launching, and plastic model "D" carrying handle. Brazilian-made FALs are thought to have been exported to Uruguay. A heavy barrel version, known as the FAP (Fuzil Automático Pesado, or heavy automatic rifle) was also produced for the armed forces, to be used as a squad automatic weapon.
Brazil's planned service weapon was a development of the FAL in 5.56×45mm. Known as the MD-2 and MD-3 assault rifles, it was also manufactured by IMBEL. The first prototype, the MD-1, came out around 1983. In 1985, the MD-2 was presented and adopted by the Military Police. Its new 5.56×45mm NATO chambering aside, the MD-2/MD-3 is still very similar to the FAL and externally resembles it, changes include a change in the locking system, which was replaced by an M16-type rotating bolt. The MD-2 and MD-3 use STANAG magazines, but have different buttstocks. The MD-2 features a FN 50.63 'para' side-folding stock, while the MD-3 uses the same fixed polymer stock of the standard FAL.
However, Brazil's current service weapon is a Brazilian FAL-based assault rifle in 5.56×45mm and 7.62×51mm versions, with Assault Rifle and Carbine variants, including a Sniper and CQB rifle, called the IA2, also produced by IMBEL.
Along with the IA2, MD-2 and MD-3 assault rifles, Brazil produces the M964A1/Pelopes (Special Operations Platoon), with a 11" barrel, 3-point sling and a Picatinny rail with a tactical flashlight and sight.
Brazilian Army officially used the FAP (Fusil Automático Pesado, or heavy automatic rifle) as its squad automatic weapon until 2013/2014, when the FN Minimi was adopted to replace it. The Marine Corps and Air Force also adopted the Minimi to replace the FAP.
IMBEL also produced a semi-automatic version of the FAL for Springfield Armory, Inc. (not to be confused with the US military Springfield Armory), which was marketed in the US as the SAR-48 (standard model) and SAR-4800 (made after 1989 with some military features removed to comply with new legislation), starting in the mid-1980s. IMBEL-made receivers have been much in demand among American gunsmiths building FALs from "parts kits."
IMBEL currently offer the FAL in 9 versions:
Currently, Brazilian Army and Marine Corps Groups still have the FAL as their main rifle, as many troops still don't have the new IA2.
The first German FALs were from an order placed in late 1955/early 1956, for several thousand FN FAL so-called "Canada" models with wood furniture and the prong flash hider. These weapons were intended for the Bundesgrenzschutz (border guard) and not the nascent Bundeswehr (army), which at the time used M1 Garands and M1/M2 carbines. In November 1956, however, West Germany ordered 100,000 additional FALs, designated the G1, for the army. FN made the rifles between April 1957 and May 1958. G1s served in the West German Bundeswehr for a relatively short time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before they were replaced by the Spanish CETME Modelo 58 rifle in 1959 (which was extensively reworked into the later G3 rifle). The G1 featured a pressed metal handguard identical to the ones used on the Austrian Stg. 58, as well as the Dutch and Greek FALs, this being slightly slimmer than the standard wood or plastic handguards, and featuring horizontal lines running almost their entire length. G1s were also fitted with a unique removable prong flash hider, adding another external distinction. The main reason for the replacement of the G1 in Germany was the refusal of the Belgians to grant a license for production of the weapon in Germany. Many G1 FALs were passed on to Turkey after their withdrawal from German service. Of note is the fact that the G1 was the first FAL variant with the 3mm lower sights specifically requested by Germany, previous versions having the taller Commonwealth-type sights also seen on Israeli models.
FN FAL rifles produced in Belgium were adopted by the Greek Army before the adoption of HK G3A3s rifles produced under license by Hellenic Arms Industry (ΕΒΟ). For a few years, FN FAL rifles were also produced under license by the Greek PYRKAL (ΠΥΡΚΑΛ) factory. FN FAL and FALO rifles were in use by Greek Army Special Forces and IV Army Corps from 1973 till 1999 and are still in use by Greek Coast Guard.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to overcome several logistics problems which were a result of the wide variety of old firearms that were in service. In 1955 the IDF adopted the IMI-produced Uzi submachine gun. To replace the German Mauser Kar 98k and some British Lee–Enfield rifles, the IDF decided in the same year to adopt the FN FAL as its standard-issue infantry rifle, under the name Rov've Mitta'enn or Romat (רומ"ט), an abbreviation of "Self-Loading Rifle". The FAL version ordered by the IDF came in two basic variants, both regular and heavy-barrel (automatic rifle), and were chambered for 7.62mm NATO ammunition. In common with heavy-barrel FALs used by several other nations, the Israeli 'heavy barrel' FAL (called the Makle'a Kal, or Makleon) was found to frequently experience a failure to feed after firing two rounds from a full magazine when in automatic mode. The Israeli FALs were originally produced as selective-fire rifles, though later light-barrel rifle versions were altered to semi-automatic fire only. The Israeli models are recognizable by a distinctive handguard with a forward perforated sheet metal section, and a rear wood section unlike most other FALs in shape, and their higher 'Commonwealth'-type sights.
The Israeli FAL first saw action in relatively small quantities during the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Six-Day War in June 1967, the War of Attrition of 1967 until 1970, it was the standard Israeli rifle. During the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 it was still in front-line service as the standard Israeli rifle, though increasing criticism eventually led to the phasing-out of the weapon. Israeli forces were primarily mechanized in nature; the long, heavy FAL slowed deployment drills, and proved exceedingly difficult to maneuver within the confines of a vehicle. Additionally, Israeli forces experienced repeated jamming of the FAL due to heavy sand and dust ingress endemic to Middle Eastern desert warfare, requiring repeated field-stripping and cleaning of the rifle, sometimes while under fire. During the later stages of the Yom Kippur War, it was noted that some Israeli soldiers had informally exchanged their FALs for the far more reliable Soviet Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles taken from dead and captured Arab soldiers. Though the IDF evaluated a few modified FAL rifles with 'sand clearance' slots in the bolt carrier and receiver (which were already part of the Commonwealth L1A1/C1A1 design), malfunction rates did not significantly improve. The Israeli FAL was eventually replaced by the M16 and the Galil (a weapon using the Soviet Kalashnikov operating system, and chambered in either 5.56×45 or 7.62 NATO), though the FAL remained in production in Israel until the 1980s.
Like most British dependencies of the time, Southern Rhodesia had equipped its security forces with the British L1A1, or SLR, by the early 1960s. Following that country's unilateral declaration of independence in 1965, new rifles could not be readily procured from the UK, so Belgian FNs and South African R1s were imported instead. The older L1s subsequently completed their service with territorial troops in the Rhodesia Regiment.
During the Rhodesian Bush War, security forces fitted most standard FNs with customised flash suppressors to reduce recoil on fully automatic fire. However, a few soldiers rejected these devices, which they charged upset the balance of their weapons during close action. In this theatre, the FN was generally considered superior to the Soviet Kalashnikovs or SKS carbines carried by communist-backed PF insurgents.
Trade sanctions and the gradual erosion of South African support in the 1970s led to serious ammunition shortages. Consequently, shipments of G3s were accepted from Portugal, although the security forces considered these less reliable than the FAL. Following Robert Mugabe's ascension to power in 1980, Rhodesia's remaining FNs were passed on to her Zimbabwean successor state. To simplify maintenance and logistics, the weapon initially remained a standard service rifle in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. It was anticipated that more 7.62mm NATO ammunition would be imported to cover existing shortages, but a sabotage action carried out against the old Rhodesian Army stockpiles negated this factor. Zimbabwe promptly supplemented its surviving inventory with Soviet and North Korean arms.
The FAL was produced under licence in South Africa by Lyttleton Engineering Works, where it is known as the R1. The first South African produced rifle, serial numbered 200001, was presented to the then Prime Minister, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, by Armscor and is now on view at the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.
Following World War II and the establishment of the NATO alliance, there was pressure to adopt a standard rifle, alliance-wide. The FAL was originally designed to handle intermediate cartridges, but in an attempt to secure US favor for the rifle, the FAL was redesigned to use the newly developed 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge. The US tested several variants of the FAL to replace the M1 Garand. These rifles were tested against the T44, essentially an updated version of the basic Garand design. Despite the T44 and T48 showing performing similarly in trials, the T44 was, for several reasons, selected and the US formally adopted the T44 as the M14 service rifle.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, many countries decommissioned the FAL from their armories and sold them en masse to United States importers as surplus. The rifles were imported to the United States as fully automatic guns. Once in the U.S., the FAL's were "de-militarized" (upper receiver destroyed) to eliminate the rifles' character as an automatic rifle, as stipulated by the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA 68 currently prohibits the importation of foreign-made full-automatic rifles prior to the enactment of the Gun Control Act; semiautomatic versions of the same firearm were legal to import until the Semiautomatic Assault Rifle Ban of 1989). Thousands of the resulting "parts kits" were sold at generally low prices ($90 – $250) to hobbyists. The hobbyists rebuilt the parts kits to legal and functional semi-automatic rifles on new semi-automatic upper receivers. FAL rifles are still commercially available from a few domestic firms in semi-auto configuration: Entreprise Arms, DSArms, and Century International Arms. Century Arms created a semi-automatic version L1A1 with an IMBEL upper receiver and surplus British Enfield inch-pattern parts, while DSArms used Steyr-style metric-pattern FAL designs (this standard-metric difference means the Century Arms and DSArms firearms are not made from fully interchangeable batches of parts).
Until recently, the FAL was the main service rifle of the Venezuelan army, made under license by CAVIM. The first batch of rifles to arrive in Venezuela were chambered in 7×49mm (also known as 7 mm Liviano or 7 mm Venezuelan). Essentially a 7×57mm round shortened to intermediate length, this caliber was jointly developed by Venezuelan and Belgian engineers motivated by a global move towards intermediate calibers. The Venezuelans, who had been exclusively using the 7×57mm round in their light and medium weapons since the turn of the 20th century, felt it was a perfect platform on which to base a calibre tailored to the particular rigours of the Venezuelan terrain.
Eventually the plan was dropped despite having ordered millions of rounds and thousands of weapons of this caliber. As the Cold War escalated, the military command felt it necessary to align with NATO despite not being a member, resulting in the adoption of the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge and the rechambering of the 5,000 or so FAL rifles that had already arrived in 7×49mm by 1955-56.
Venezuela has bought 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles from Russia in order to replace the old FALs. Although the full shipment arrived by the end of 2006, the FAL will remain in service with the Venezuelan Reserve Forces and the Territorial Guard.
In the more than 60 years of use worldwide, the FAL has seen use in conflicts all over the world. During the Falklands War, the FN FAL was used by both sides. The FAL was used by the Argentine armed forces and the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR), a semi-automatic only version of the FAL, was used by the armed forces of the UK and other Commonwealth nations.